Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Rapidly deteriorating situation in Palestine

US Secretary of State rushes to Israel as the new far-right cabinet causes shocks.

In the shadow of the formation of Israel's most right-wing government, the general situation on the Palestinian Question is deteriorating with each new day. Over the last twenty-four hours, Palestinian relations with the Israeli state have been going through a new, solid test.

The moves by representatives of Benjamin Netanyahu's new government are causing unrest in Palestine. The latest information from Israel shows that this new trend will continue. In such a case, experts warn of unforeseen developments, such as the possibility of the collapse of the Palestinian administration.

Tensions on the Palestinian Question are climbing to dangerous levels as developments on the international scene are becoming complicated, with the Ukrainian issue remaining at an impasse and problems and conflagrations occurring on many open fronts.

From bad to worse

Tensions on the Palestinian Question began to peak alongside the formation of Israel's new government. The Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, one of the representatives of the Israeli far-right, visited the Temple Mount immediately after starting his duties in the new Netanyahu government. The move drew the ire of Palestinians. Ruth Wasserman Lande relates this step with Ben-Gvir's arrogance "aimed at receiving popular support from his followers rather than seeking the greater good of Israel."

"He is expected to take care of the endless violence and crime, which has reached unprecedented heights in Israel and the Arab sector in Israel in particular, to tend to the unequalled extortion that has swept over the country, particularly in its periphery and has affected almost every business, to urgently tend to the land grabs, arson, extortion and life threats which Jewish farmers face throughout the country and particularly in the north of Israel, mostly from Bedouins, and to complete legislation as per the confiscation of money and goods belonging to illegal arms dealers," notes Lande, who adds that Israel's new Minister of National Security chooses populism instead of addressing these problems.

Palestinian-Israeli state relations took a new hit when Itamar Ben Gvir ordered police to remove Palestinian flags from any public place just hours after the latest crisis in the Temple Mount, even though the Palestinian reaction to Ben Gvir's visit to Jerusalem's holy site did not immediately result in a significant and immediate escalation, as predicted by the Israeli intelligence. Ben Gvir, leader of the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, ordered Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to implement the new policy, a symbolic measure liable to increase friction between police and Arab-Israelis who identify with the Palestinian national struggle.

In the latest uncompromising move by the new government, the Knesset approved bills attempting to strip the citizenship or residency of convicted terrorists who accept payment from the Palestinian Authority for their crimes, concurrently with Ben Gvir's moves in the Israeli Parliament. Legislators from the Religious Zionism and Likud parties submitted a bill that would revoke citizenship from terrorists convicted of receiving direct or indirect payments from the Palestinian Authority in exchange for their acts of terrorism.

The Israeli Parliament's latest move comes after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant canceled the entry visas of three senior Palestinian Authority officials after they visited a recently released prisoner who spent decades in prison for the murder of a soldier. Karim Younis, the prisoner with the longest sentence for a security-related crime, was released from custody on Thursday after spending 40 years in jail after being found guilty of murdering an Israeli soldier in 1980 and being charged with terrorism. Celebrations have been organized in his hometown of 'Ara in northern Israel since his release. Younis belongs to the Arab minority in Israel. Mahmoud al-Aloul, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Rawhi Fattouh, three leaders of the Fatah party that controls the PA, visited Younis on Saturday. They entered Israel using legitimate visas that were issued to high-ranking Palestinian officials. Mohammad Barakeh, the chair of the National Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee, was also there. According to the Defense Ministry, Gallant instructed the division of the Defense Ministry in charge of Palestinian civil affairs to remove the visitors' permissions after their visit.

The Palestinian Authority's Foreign Minister announced Israel had revoked his travel authorization simultaneously with the fresh development. According to a statement from Riyad al-Malki, he learned that Israel had revoked travel permission for senior Palestinian officials that allowed them to move throughout the West Bank more freely than regular Palestinians when he returned from the inauguration of the president of Brazil. This was one of several punitive measures against the Palestinians that Israel's new hardline government announced days earlier in response to a PA initiative at the UN criticizing Israel's control of the West Bank.

The thriller peaks

According to the most recent information and signs from Israel, Palestine's new political and diplomatic thriller will have a sequel. "Ben Gvir's provocations will soon be joined by another challenge to the present order on the West Bank," "Haaretz" predicts. Bezalel Smotrich, who oversees the Civil Administration and serves as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories under the new coalition government, has already drafted a plan to improve living conditions for settlers and legalize illegal outposts. The new scheme limits Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli control alone under the Oslo Accords.

The Israeli newspaper continues that the above action comes at a time "when West Bank attacks by Palestinians have intensified since March 2022, and the Israeli security establishment now speaks about a prolonged 'period of variability,' during which the relatively heavy violence will continue and whose endpoint is difficult to predict." Israel might eventually be forced into a more extensive military operation in the northern West Bank, particularly the Jenin area, because of the Palestinian Authority's ongoing weakening and the struggle to succeed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

It should be noted that the new Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, signed a decree to block 139 million NIS ($39.6 million) in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority and redirect it to families of terror victims as retaliation for the PA's international legal action against Israel, raising the possibility of the Palestinian administration weakening or even collapsing. When asked if he was concerned that the decision might lead to the PA's demise during a news conference, Smotrich responded, "As long as the Palestinian Authority encourages terror and is an enemy, I have no interest for it to continue to exist." Following the 2018 law, Israel took a similar decision, but only to a limited extent. The action is among those sanctioned by the new Israeli government in reprisal for the Palestinians' demand that the international community expresses its position on Israel's sovereignty of the West Bank. The decision, made at a time of rising violence in the West Bank and with peace talks a distant memory, emphasizes the new administration's challenging position toward the Palestinians.

According to Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, the latest decision shows that "the occupation is waging a new war on the Palestinian people, their resources, and their financial capacity, and is enacting illegal cuts, which are unilateral measures not subject to review by any Palestinian or international party and violate the signed agreements." Shtayyyeh continues, "We do not exchange our freedom and right to self-determination for money or advantages. The goal of these actions is to undermine the Palestinian Authority. We are calling on Arab nations to carry out the decisions made at the Arab summits regarding the activation of the financial safety net".

"The Israeli government has set its sights on eradicating the Palestinian presence so that it may implement its plans in Jerusalem, control Islamic and Christian religious sites, annex Area C, and transform them into settlement blocs," claims Rouhi Fattouh, the head of the National Council.

Blinken in the role of a firefighter

The blows the Palestinian Authority is taking from the new Israeli government could cause it to collapse in the upcoming period. What kind of new reality would the area encounter if such were the case? Alon Pinkas emphasizes the importance of finding answers to these critical issues, noting that "Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority are one of the most startling paradoxes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict frequently generates. The most recent is a retaliatory move after the Palestinians successfully petitioned the UN General Assembly to request the International Court of Justice's ruling on the legal implications of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.”

The columnist wonders, "Why is this a paradox?" and continues by adding that "plainly, Israel's actions are effectively writing the ICJ's brief for them, ultimately reinforcing the Palestinian allegation that there is a de facto occupation that may turn into a de jure annexation. But there's a bigger paradox at play here, one with considerably more significant and long-lasting ramifications: Israel is steadily degrading the PA until it collapses and goes bankrupt, which would turn the partial occupation into full occupation".

Everything suggests that the American capital is responding to the Israeli analysts' warnings. Washington is sending its senior diplomat to Israel for consultations and contacts after the recent alarming developments. By the end of January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new administration amid tensions over the Temple Mount, Israeli sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, and Iran.

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